On Monday, the world watched with a deep sense of sadness as the beautiful cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris was consumed by fire. It was a mesmerizing scene. There were many tears shed on that day after Palm Sunday. Why? Why was this such a traumatic event for the world? Much has been written to answer that question.
Some argued that we came face-to-face with the transitory nature of life. Nothing is permanent on this planet. Nothing. So, on Monday we faced our mortality and it moved us deeply. Perhaps.
Part of our sorrow may have been linked to the power of architecture. The size and the beauty of that building helped us consider the grandeur of God. That was its purpose. For others, it had become a monument to the genius and goodness of man. So, to watch history burn was very sad. Perhaps.
Of course, a pure secularist has his own twisted take. Writing in Rolling Stone magazine, Michael Kimmelmann said, “But for some people in France, Notre Dame has also served as a deep-seated symbol of resentment, a monument to a deeply flawed institution and an idealized Christian European France that arguably never existed in the first place. ‘The building was so overburdened with meaning that its burning feels like an act of liberation,’ says Patricio del Real, an architecture historian at Harvard University.’” How can a building be overburdened with meaning, when it is all about God and the story of redemption? I guess that’s one way to get over the grief of those flames.
There are many in our world who want to see us freed from any notion of the divine. So, for them any rebuilding process will be a clear step to remake architecture for man’s glory, not God’s. That, for me, would be an even greater tragedy.
Some believers have said this is a great lesson for us. It will all burn in the end anyway, so what’s the big deal? But, things will survive into the New Jerusalem. There will be buildings and great architecture. And most likely that cathedral could still be standing. Perhaps. But as a pinnacle of human civilization, to watch it burn on Monday was terribly sad.
I’m not sure there is an overriding lesson to the burning of Notre Dame. Maybe it is just a tragedy where no lives were lost. One writer put it this way, “As one who has a personal 9/11 story (I was airborne that morning), I have learned to appreciate every day as a gift. Paris is a gift. Notre Dame is a special gift, one that we have enjoyed, appreciated, and been astonished by for nearly 700 years. On April 15, we learned (again) that gifts should be appreciated, that they should never be taken for granted, that they can in fact be taken away.” (David Gruesel, writing for The Gospel Coalition website).
On this Resurrection Sunday, we do need to remember that there is only one gift that cannot be taken away. And it was given to us by the one Giver. We find hope for life in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Life from death. Hope from flames. That is God’s gift to us. The grave was not the end. Jesus is risen!